By the numbers, the European Union is a giant. Its economy exceeds China’s by $7 trillion and is just a bit smaller than America’s $20 trillion. Russia? Its GDP of $ 1.7 trillion is petty cash. On paper, the EU nations marshal as many soldiers as does the United States, and half a million more than Russia. Their combined population dwarfs both. But if one measures by its weight in world affairs, Europe is a runt.
It does not play in the superpower league, and it does not muster the will to do so, no matter how splendiferous the rhetoric of “self-reliance” and “self-assertion.” The cause is rooted in postwar history. Europe was shattered and had to rebuild, and so came to rely for its existential safety on the United States. At the height of the Cold War, up to 300,000 U.S. troops, backed up by thousands of tactical nuclear weapons, stood guard at the Iron Curtain. Then at the end of the last century, its deadly foe, the Soviet Union, simply vanished, committing suicide on Christmas Day 1991 and leaving behind Russia and 14 orphan republics.